State Sen. Gianaris criticizes NY’s redistricting system

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The state agency responsible for redrawing legislative district boundaries was set to hold a forum this week to solicit input from the public.

The boundaries for districts of the state Legislature and Congress will be redrawn in 2012 in response to the 2010 U.S. Census. The boundaries of the City Council will be redrawn in 2013.

Since the populations in each district have either risen or fallen, the boundaries need to be adjusted so each legislator represents a similar number of people.?

But several lawmakers and civic organizations believe the new boundaries for political districts need to be redrawn by an independent party instead of by the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research, a team comprised of a combination of politicians and non-politicians.

“We have become a laughing stock as it relates to our districts,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said at a March meeting of the Senate. “There are contests to name the shapes of our districts. That’s how bad it’s gotten.”

In Queens, some districts form mind-boggling boundaries that look like the random inky shapes of a Rorschach test.

Gianaris’ district appears to be a normal box-like shape, except for a peninsula extending to the southeast, which resembles a long appendage designed to nab voters in Ridgewood. The district of state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) looks vaguely like a letter “x” that had been hacked at with an axe.

Two portions in the district of state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) are only connected at certain points during the day.

“It is not a contiguous district unless it is low tide,” Gianaris said. “They are just looking for a way to connect College Point to northeastern Queens.”

Gianaris and activist groups said in the past borders have been redrawn to split up groups of voters who would potentially vote against an incumbent and net more voters who would re-elect that incumbent.

“We are picking who is going to vote for us rather than letting the voter pick who will represent them,” he said.

The lines are decided the by the majority party in each house, Gianaris said. In the Senate, Republicans pick the lines and in the Assembly the Democrats choose the lines.

But Gianaris also said Gov. Andrew Cuomo put out a proposal for redistricting reform earlier this year and has said he will veto any new districts proposed by the commission.

The redistricting body was set to hold the public forum at Queens Borough Hall at 120-55 Queens Blvd.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 7:09 pm, September 14, 2011
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